My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: John Conlee — ‘Harmony’

When John Conlee released his eighth album, Harmony, in 1986, he was also making his transition from MCA to Columbia. Although he would only release two albums for the label, his hit-making streak continued.

Three singles were released from the album, including the mid-tempo title track, which hit #10. The other two came from prominent artists and had varying quality. Conlee’s seventh and final #1 came courtesy of Dobie Gray’s unspectacular “Got My Heart Set On You.” He much deserved to peak higher than #6 with Guy Clark’s “The Carpenter,” an excellent salute to an everyday working man:

Let us now praise the carpenter and the things that he made

And the way that he lived by the tools of the trade

I can still hear his hammer singing ten-penny time

Working by the hour till the day that he died

 

He was tough as a crowbar, he was quick as a chisel

Fair as a plane and true as a level

He was straight as a chalk line and right as a rule

He was square with the world he took good care of his tools

 

He worked his hands in wood from the crib to the coffin

With a care and a love that you don’t see too often

He built boats out of wood, big boats, he worked in a shipyard

Mansions on the hill and a birdhouse in the backyard

 

He said anything that’s worth cutting down a tree for

Is worth doing right don’t the lord love a two by four

If you asked him how to do something he said like Noah built the Arc

You’ve got to hold your mouth right son and never miss the mark

Piano and steel guitar is an effective backdrop for “Class Reunion,” about a man who finds his reunion notice between his stack of bills. The story is very relatable but the lyric could’ve been sharper. He continues in this territory on “Cars,” a love song between a guy and the “motors and wheels” that get him through life:

She was sittin’ on a car lot looking like a dream

Underneath a string of lights

A 49 model and I was sixteen

But I knew it was love at first sight

 

And the man said, son, I’ll make you a deal

And I knew I had to make her mine

I held my breath and slid behind the wheel

It was my very first time

 

Cars, just motors and wheels

Rubber and glass and steel

Still, I think back over the years

And it sounds strange, I suppose

But it’s cars I remember most

 

She was parked on the street by the First Baptist Church

As we ran down the steps hand in hand

My brand new Chevy waiting there at the curve

And we waved to the crowd and got in

 

Well, the miles went by and so did the years

And I thought that we were doing alright

Till she packed up the kids and picked up the keys

And just drove away one night

 

Well, the years have gone by and a lot of thing changed

I hardly see the kids any more

Took a new job and moved to LA

And bought me a two-seater Porsche

 

There’s lots of pretty girls out here and you know

I could be doing alright

But mostly at night I just drive up the cost

And look at the city lights

The album’s truest country moment comes courtesy of Bobby Braddock’s delightful “She Told Me So,” which seems like it was written for Keith Whitley. Also wonderful is “I’ll Be Seeing You,” which has a downbeat lyric about a guy kicking his woman to the curb set to a rather cheerful ear-catching melody.

“You’ve Got A Right” is pure filler but it is the album’s most uptempo song. Conlee takes us to Montego Bay, Jamaica on “For A Little While,” and while the setting may be tropical, the downbeat lyric is set to a very contemporary arrangement featuring steel guitars, not steel drums. He concludes the album with “The Day He Turns 65,” a portrait of a man who, on the brink of retirement, must figure out his new life.

Harmony is very much a contemporary country album with solid country production throughout. While there isn’t a truly terrible song to be found, some of the tracks are definitely stronger than others.

Grade: B

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